Travel Guides: Burma
Burma, also called the Union of Myanmar, is the largest country in Southeast Asia.
It borders China to the north, Laos to the east, Thailand to the southeast, Bangladesh on the west and northwest India, the Andaman Sea to the south and southwest the Bay of Bengal. The country was ruled by a military hunt led by General Ne Win from 1962 to 1988, and its political system has remained under tight military hunt control. In 1989, the country has officially changed the English version of name from Burma to Myanmar (along with changing the name of several localities, as was the case of the capital from Rangoon to Yangon). The official name of the country in Burmese language, Myanma, remained unchanged. Changing names has proved politically controversial, seen by some as being less permissive to minorities.
Originally an independent kingdom in 1824-26, 1851-52 and 1885-86 Burma was invaded by the British Empire and became part of India. The Japanese drove out the British together with Aung San and occupied the country during the Second World War, but was reoccupied by the British in 1945. In 1948 the nation became sovereign, as the Union of Burma, with the first Prime Minister U Nu. Democratic rule ended in 1962 with a military coup led by General Ne Win. Ne Win ruled the country for nearly 26 years. In 1990 free elections were held for the first time in almost 30 years, but the victory of the NLD, Aung San party Suu Kyi was canceled by the military which refused to hand over power.
One of the most prominent personalities in the history of the twentieth century is the founder of the Burmese army and freedom fighter, General Aung San, an NLD student turned activist, whose daughter is Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a picture of peace, freedom and democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi, now under house arrest. A third of the most recognized personalities in the world is U Thant, who was UN secretary-general for two terms, highly respected by the United Nations. Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962. Current head of state General Than Shwe is holding the title of president of the State Peace and Development. His appointed prime minister was Khin Nyunt until 19 October 2004, when he was replaced by Lieutenant General Soe Win. Almost all cabinet offices are held by military officers.
US sanctions against the military government were largely ineffective due to breaches and the willingness of mainly Asian business to continue to invest in Burma and to initiate new investments, mainly in natural resources. For example, the French oil company Total buys Myanmar’s oil despite the country being under economic sanctions, although Total (formerly TotalFinaElf) is the subject of a lawsuit in France and Belgium for involvement in human rights abuses, along the gas pipeline jointly owned by Total, the American company Unocal and the Burmese army. Clothing and footwear industry in the United States could also be affected if all sanctions breaches would be closed, however they were already subject to US sanctions imposed earlier boycott in June 2002.
The regime is accused of not respecting human rights and human rights situation in the country is a matter of concern for a large number of organizations. There is no independent judiciary in Burma against the military government and the political opposition is not tolerated. In 1988 protests against the oppression of poor economic and political leadership have been violently repressed, when soldiers opened fire on demonstrators. Undoubtedly, the 1988 protests paved the way for 1990 elections, which were invalidated by the military. Aung San Suu Kyi, whose opposition party won 83% of parliamentary seats in national elections in 1990, was prevented by the military to become prime minister, won international praise as an activist for the return of democratic rule to Burma.
She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. She was repeatedly placed under house arrest, although in recent years the regime has been willing to enter into negotiations with her and her party National League for Democracy. She was most recently arrested at home on 31 May 2003, following an attack on her convoy in northern Burma and remains under house arrest. Burma is divided into seven regions and seven states, based on the dominant ethnic groups. Regions are mainly Burmese, while other states are composed predominantly of ethnic groups.
The country has a total area of 678,500 sq km, of which almost half is forest. From the topographic point of view, the country has mountains along its border with India and China and the West, which surrounds a central area around the lower Ayeyarwady River, which forms a fertile delta at the mouth to the sea. Most people are living in the low area in the center of the country. The economy is in very poor shape because of lack of organization of government. Burma people are the dominant ethnic group. Burmese is the official language of Myanmar. English is spoken as a second language in general. Therevada Buddhism is the religion of the majority ethnic Burmese (and Rakhine), Shan, Mon and Chinese, while Christianity is dominant among the Karen. Indians practice Hinduism or Islam.
Most people, both men and women, are wearing longyis or some kind of sarong. Population: 42,561,000 inhabitants. Population density: 59 inhabitants per square km. The capital and largest city: Rangoon 2,458,712 inhabitants. Official language: Burmese. Imported products: car pieces, textiles. Exported products: timber, rice, pets, fish. Coin: kyat (1 kyat = 100 pyas). Gross domestic product: US $ 10,500,000,000. State type: republic. Myanmar (Burma) is one of the poorest and at the same time, one of the most fascinating countries in Southeast Asia. Poverty is due to decades in which the government protected the country from any foreign influence, which is why Burma has a fascinating character. A trip to Burma is not just a trip to another part of the world, but a journey to another time.11